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Tencent boss Pony Ma pledges to serve society despite slower business growth

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Pony Ma Huateng, founder, chairman and chief executive of Tencent Holdings, said the company will keep moving towards serving society despite slower business growth, in a statement that echoes similar pledges that have been made since last year.

"Tencent is facing a new phase in which challenges and development coexist," Ma wrote in Tencent's first sustainable social values report released on Monday. "On one hand, profit and revenue growth are slowing; on the other hand, we can use [the opportunity] to change gears and create higher-quality development."

The internet giant aims to change its focus from consumers and industries to serving the whole society, following its strategic upgrade last year to make sustainable social values the core of Tencent's mission, Ma said.

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Ma, 50, who founded China's most valuable technology company in 1998, has made no major public appearances since early 2021, when he showed up at the country's annual parliamentary gathering in Beijing.

While Ma, a National People's Congress delegate, submitted his proposals for the 2022 session, there was no video or photos showing that he attended the meetings in person.

Tencent, which runs the world's largest video gaming business by revenue and China's biggest social media platform WeChat, has been under regulatory pressure to follow antitrust guidelines and obey new regulations, ranging from data security to game time restrictions on minors.

Last year, the Shenzhen-based firm first earmarked 50 billion yuan (US$7.7 billion) to promote "sustainable social value innovation", and later another 50 billion yuan to set up a fund dedicated to "common prosperity" after Chinese President Xi Jinping made it a key economic and social goal for the country.

After internet regulators, including the Cyberspace Administration of China, convened a meeting of internet executives to lecture them on how to behave, Ma was said to have organised a study session and was quoted as saying that he felt the "care and attention" of the government. Ma also said Tencent would continue to "respond to the needs of the state".

In his report on Monday, Ma cited Tencent Docs, the company's answer to Google Docs, as an example of the company's efforts in using technology to create social values. The app was used by citizens to crowdsource information about people who needed help and where they could find it during last summer's floods in Henan province.

Tencent's multipurpose app WeChat has created an ecosystem that provides around 37 million jobs in 2020, according to the report, which also detailed Tencent's efforts to make internet services accessible to elderly people and promote low-carbon practices, among other initiatives.

"We need to do what is hard but right ... this is what the country and society expect of us," Ma wrote.

Tencent's latest pledge comes amid the government's efforts to limit the power of the tech sector by scrutinising monopolistic behaviours and other questionable business practices.

Last July, Tencent was ordered to end its exclusive music licensing deals with global record labels within 30 days and was fined 500,000 yuan by China's antitrust authorities.

In the same month, regulators ordered Tencent to relinquish its exclusive music licensing deals with global record labels and blocked a long-awaited merger that would have combined the country's two largest video game live-streaming platforms, Douyu and Huya.

The company was fined multiple times last year by China's market watchdog for failing to disclose past merger and acquisition deals.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.